Stratification a stratified society

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Chapter 11: Origins of Chiefdoms and the State

A stratified society arranges statuses or subgroups within a society according to socially superior and inferior ranks. Stratification produces inequality in access to wealth.

  1. Power, the ability to exercise one's will over others-to do what one wants-is the basis of political status.

  2. Prestige, or "cultural capital" (Bourdieu), provides people with a sense of worth and respect, which they may often convert into eco­nomic and political advantage.


  1. Production of surplus which provides the opportunity to control sources of revenue to finance religious and military operations

  2. Incorporation of new territories through political domination in order to maximize surplus production


  1. Inherited office-- it is an ascribed status determined by birth

  2. Found in more densely populated regions

  3. Chief is considered owner of the land

  4. Chief maintains his office even if he is temporarily unable to provide for his people, but he can be deposed through defeat in war

  5. Chief can summon surplus and labor for both redistribution and for himself

  6. Chief lives better than others and controls surplus and prestige valuables that are used as currency to pay for services

  7. In the past, chiefs maintained a professional military that conquered territories that were used to extract surplus



  1. Located in Melanesia, north of New Guinea

  2. Society is divided into elite and commoner matrilineages

  3. The chief of the most powerful group of lineages is known as the “paramount chief”

  4. In the past, the chief gained rank through wars of conquest

  5. Yams are delivered to the chief which are used for feasts and to finance specialists who manufacture prestige goods

Limitations on Chiefly Power

  1. Yams rot after 4-6 months – there is no adequate storable food supply to support military for long periods of time

  2. Chief can not cut off access to basic resources (i.e. fish) to establish permanent coercive control over people


  1. Centralized government

  2. Class stratification

  3. Intensive agriculture

  4. Mandatory taxes and tribute

  5. Involuntary military and labor services



There are two kinds of States

  1. Pristine States or archaic states (that evolved on their own from chiefdoms)

  2. Mesopotamia

  3. Egypt

  4. Indus Valley

  5. China

  6. Maya

  7. Inca

  1. Secondary States that resulted from conquest

  2. Europe

  3. United States etc.



  1. INTENSIVE AGRICULTURE (grain rice barley and corn which can be stored for long periods) that require capital improvements.

  2. CIRCUMSCRIPTION (restricted habitats from which emigration is blocked or else people would be forced to accept a lower standard of living


Once states come into existence, they engulf other independent political units through military conquest

  1. Larger denser population provides greater surplus

  2. The more surplus there is, the more specialists (including military) the state can support

  3. The more powerful the elite, the more they can engage in long distance warfare and trade

  4. The more new territory is conquered, the greater the area from which surplus is harvested.

  5. The greater the state’s political control, the less opportunity a person has to move outside state controlled land.

Four Opportunities for Control

  1. Risk management--there is always a danger of regional food scarcity when there is high population density. Production of food surplus provides a safeguard against starvation.

  2. Capital Investment-- as people produce more food, technology helps offset the rising labor costs of increased agricultural output. Irrigation permits intensified production through the management of water which provide an opportunity to produce surpluses that supports local chiefs.

  3. Warfare– In order to achieve regional integration, warfare had to be brought under control. Although warfare alone does not necessarily lead to stratification, it enables chiefdoms to expand by incorporating and controlling additional populations that provide surplus production.

  4. Large scale trade-- Long distance trade requires political coordination and management to construct roads or sea-going canoes. Trade provides access to valuable raw materials (for prestige goods) and storable food resources (to reduce the risk of food shortages), and it builds alliances that manage regional relations of war and peace.


  1. Religious institutions legitimize power relations within society.

  2. Religious ideology imparts an understanding of what is right and natural—that represents the status quo

  3. These experiences are derived from material objects such as large public monuments, ceremonial facilities, and special regalia (such as fine clothes, a crown, or jewels), that represent the power of the dominant classes.


  5. ideology becomes transformed from abstract ideas and values into material objects that become public symbols

Three examples

  1. The Trobrianders- Simple chiefdom – had yams

  1. Hawaii—Advanced chiefdom that did not achieve state organization (lacked storage)

  1. Inca – Pristine state (had grain, corn, and freeze dried potatoes.

The Inca

  1. The Inka State integrated warring chiefdoms throughout the region and instituted peace.

  2. The state imposed indirect rule through exiting political systems using a new ruling elite (curaca) who managed production

  3. The state granted rights of land use in exchange for labor obligations (mit’a) that included cultivating land to feed state and religious personnel and public works.

  4. Storage of staple goods (maize, potatoes and quinoa) in massive storehouses provided security against starvation and supplies for state personnel

  1. The state sponsored massive improvements—irrigation, terracing and construction of roads.

  2. Entire communities were relocated (mitmaq) to work on newly developed land and to reduce possibility of old hostility resurfacing..

  3. Chosen women (acalla) wove fine grade cloth (prestige goods).

  4. Specialists (yana) worked as servants to elite members.

  5. The Kipu system kept track of state owned resources.

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